Summary: 18th in a series from Ecclesiastes. It often only takes something small to ruin something great.
When we were in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago, we watched as a couple of kids worked diligently to build a sand castle on the beach. They meticulously used their buckets and shovels to craft quite a castle, complete with sticks around the perimeter to protect it from intruders. Unfortunately for them, the tide was coming in and not much later it only took a couple of waves to wipe out all their work. At the time, I thought that was such a great illustration of what we have been learning in our journey through Ecclesiastes. That sand castle was merely “hebel”. It was nothing more than a breath or a mist that didn’t last for long.
That whole event also demonstrated quite well the principle that we’re going to look at this morning as we continue our journey – the idea that it often takes far less to ruin something than it does to create it. Or as Derek Kidner puts it in his commentary on Ecclesiastes:
It’s Easier to Make a Stink than to Create Sweetness
We’re going to read all of chapter 10 this morning. Let’s stand together as that passage is read out loud:
1 Dead flies putrefy the perfumer’s ointment, And cause it to give off a foul odor; So does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor. 2 A wise man’s heart is at his right hand, But a fool’s heart at his left. 3 Even when a fool walks along the way, He lacks wisdom, And he shows everyone that he is a fool. 4 If the spirit of the ruler rises against you, Do not leave your post; For conciliation pacifies great offenses. 5 There is an evil I have seen under the sun, As an error proceeding from the ruler: 6 Folly is set in great dignity, While the rich sit in a lowly place. 7 I have seen servants on horses, While princes walk on the ground like servants. 8 He who digs a pit will fall into it, And whoever breaks through a wall will be bitten by a serpent. 9 He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, And he who splits wood may be endangered by it. 10 If the ax is dull, And one does not sharpen the edge, Then he must use more strength; But wisdom brings success. 11 A serpent may bite when it is not charmed; The babbler is no different. 12 The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious, But the lips of a fool shall swallow him up; 13 The words of his mouth begin with foolishness, And the end of his talk is raving madness. 14 A fool also multiplies words. No man knows what is to be; Who can tell him what will be after him? 15 The labor of fools wearies them, For they do not even know how to go to the city! 16 Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, And your princes feast in the morning! 17 Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles, And your princes feast at the proper time -- For strength and not for drunkenness! 18 Because of laziness the building decays, And through idleness of hands the house leaks. 19 A feast is made for laughter, And wine makes merry; But money answers everything. 20 Do not curse the king, even in your thought; Do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; For a bird of the air may carry your voice, And a bird in flight may tell the matter.
Ecclesiastes 10:1-20 (NKJV)
Once again, this is another passage from Ecclesiastes that appears at first glance to consist of a number of unrelated thoughts. But as the men who were here on Tuesday morning discovered, once we began to look at the overall passage, there are some common themes that hold this passage together. And, as I’ve mentioned, the primary theme is the idea that it is easier to make a stink than to create sweetness.
With that main theme in mind, let me make three observations about this passage that will help us to understand it better and then I’ll share some thoughts about how we can avoid making a stink.
1. One foolish action can ruin a lot of good
Once again, we find that an idiom that we use regularly in our culture today finds its roots in the Book of Ecclesiastes. In verse 1, Qoheleth presents us with the box art for this passage when he writes:
Dead flies putrefy the perfumer’s ointment, And cause it to give off a foul odor;
Our phrase “a fly in the ointment” comes directly from that verse. In Qoheleth’s day, ointment was used for many purposes. Although it had medicinal uses, it was also sweet smelling and used as a perfume. But if during the making of the ointment a fly got into the ointment and was not removed immediately, it would die and soon the stench from the decaying body of the dead fly would permeate the entire batch of ointment. Qoheleth uses that picture to reinforce a principle that he first introduced to us at the end of chapter 9 with these words: